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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

gained isoniething more lasting than any prize, the stubborn
conviction, right or wrong, that neither fear nor the utmost
seventy of discipline can extinguish the sense of justice and fair
dealing in young minds experiencing their first unselfish devo-
tion. This his fellow students had taught him by their courage.
Galcis never forgot their example. He was too young not to be
The following year marked another crisis hi the young boy's
life. Docile interest in literature and the classics gave way to
boredom; his mathematical genius was already stirring. His
teachers advised that he be demoted, fivariste's father objected,
and the boy continued with his interminable exercises hi
rhetoric. Latins and Greek. His work was reported as mediocre,
his conduct 'dissipated', and the teachers had their way.
Galois was demoted. He was forced to lick up the stale leavings
which his genius had rejected. Bored and disgusted he gave his
work perfunctory attention and passed it without effort or
interest. Mathematics was taught more or less as an aside to the
serious business of digesting the classics, and the pupils of
various grades and assorted ages took the elementary mathe-
matical course at the convenience of their other studies.
It was during this year of acute boredom that Galois began
mathematics in the regular school course. The splendid geo-
metry of Legendre came his way. It is said that two years was
the usual time required by even the better mathematicians
among the boys to master Legendre. Galois read the geometry
from cover to cover as easily as other boys read a pirate yarn.
The book aroused his enthusiasm; it was no textbook written
by a hack, but a work of art composed by a creative mathe-
matician. A single reading sufficed to reveal the whole structure
of elementary geometry hi crystal clarity to the fascinated boy.
He had mastered it,
His reaction to algebra is illuminating. It disgusted him, and
for a very good reason when we consider what sort of mind
Galois had. Here was no master like Legendre to inspire him.
Tfce text in algebra was a school book and nothing more.
Galois contemptuously tossed it aside. It lacked, he said, the
creator's touch that only a creative mathematician can give.